Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: Down (and Out) in New Orleans


One of last year's most acclaimed documentaries is now available on DVDfrom First Run Features. In The Sons of Tennessee Williams, director Tim Wolff uncovers the vibrant history of gay life in New Orleans via the famous "krewes" that participate in each year's Mardi Gras festivities. As a 1950's newsreel report declares at the film's start, "Gay celebrations usher in Lent!" Needless to say, "gay" meant something else to most folks back then.

One participant who has been involved all along states, "You didn't put your lifestyle on the street the way they do today." Indeed, doing so would almost immediately get one arrested. Since Mardi Gras (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year) was the only day men could legally cross-dress in New Orleans, it became the city's de facto gay pride celebration at an early point in its history. Many decades later, in the wake of such devastating adversities as AIDS and Hurricane Katrina, the annual balls thrown by long-lived gay groups such as the Krewe of KY(!) and the Krewe of Armeinius are not only hot tickets but have won the respect of the local Black and White, moneyed, straight communities.

Amazing, elaborate costumes are in abundance throughout The Sons of Tennessee Williams but the film's finale -- shot during the Krewe of Armeinius's 40th anniversary ball, at which the theme was "desserts" -- is spectacular. Decoupage patterned on gingerbread, petit fours and New York cheesecake will not only make viewers hungry but are guaranteed to take one's breath away.

Reverend's Rating: B

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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